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Comments to the Class of 2021: Nearly 250 days of awesome!

Steve Bahls, President of Augustana College
May 23, 2021

Members of the Class of 2021: It is my honor to congratulate you on behalf of the faculty, staff and administration of Augustana College. We are so proud of your accomplishments. And we thank you for the opportunity to serve you. It has been on honor for all of us to share this special and sometimes difficult time in your lives and to witness how you haven grown. You are now ready to take on the world!

To the parents here today: This is my 18th Augustana Commencement. My greatest joy, and privilege, over the last four years has been to watch your students grow, through thick and thin, in mind, spirit and body. Like you, I am the parent of an Augustana graduate. My daughter Angela graduated several years ago, and I saw first-hand the magic of Augustana College — how students become wise by learning to turn the crystal and look from different angles at complex problems. Thank you, parents, for your sacrifice in making a high quality education available to your students. Your investment in your student's education will continue to pay off each year for the decades to come.

Students, I remember when you came to Augustana and I addressed your class as first-years. When I looked out across the Opening Convocation, I could see you were a bright group, but apprehensive about the next four years. It warms my heart and, I assure you, the same is true for your families, to see that while you might still be apprehensive about your future, you now have the skills and confidence to build a rewarding life of leadership and service.

Four years ago, we never would have imagined this past 15 months, the most difficult in two generations. Only a few had heard the term coronavirus. If I had told you that you would be masked, socially distanced, in pods and celebrating a vaccination during your senior year, you would have thought I was crazy.

Heroic students

But students, we stayed open to live and hybrid classes and events for nearly 250 days. Together, we built a safe academic year with much more on-campus and live activities than virtually any other college or university. The Augustana community is awesome.

Speaking of awesome, how about our international students — the largest number of international graduates in the history of the college — with most stranded on the Augustana campus last spring and summer when the rest of us had returned to our homes last spring and summer.

Augustana’s international students built a mutually supportive community to sustain each other in ways I’ve not seen in all my years in higher education. And even more so, with international travel restrictions and difficulties preventing their parents from being with their students at this commencement. Let us recognize our heroic international students.

This year for the second time in my 18 years I've had a chance to teach a class at Augustana. Between interacting with you in class, attending, lately by Zoom, so many athletic, theater and music ensemble events, or visiting with so many of you during my Zoom open office hours, I've seen first-hand how strong our students really are.

Augie students are engaged in their studies, they are thoughtful, they look at problems from diverse angles, and their creative thinking is nothing short of inspiring. Augie students do not shy away from deep intellectual explorations, nor from bringing passion to their work. You reach boldly and shine brightly. Our students are, in a word, awesome.

Lessons from the 50th

Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned during my 18 years at Augustana have come from our 50th anniversary classes. I attend their reunions, and we often give each member of that class a chance to reflect on the 50 years since their graduation, and what their Augustana education has meant for them. A common thread is that they thought they knew what their calling in life would be when they graduated from Augustana, only to be proved wrong by the many unexpected twists and turns of life.

What these alumni in their 70s thought was their purpose in life and their sense of calling evolved because of the unexpected. Job changes, loss of loved ones, career opportunities and disappointments, health issues, new relationships, broken relationships, unexpected opportunities, and surprising roadblocks. Parents and grandparents, do you know what I am talking about?

And most graduates from 50 years ago comment that the skills they gained at Augustana helped them navigate their winding and sometimes rocky path. They treasured their time at Augustana because in those years they developed the life skills and values that sustained them through each twist and turn. It’s my confident hope that 50 years from now you will look back on this time with gratitude for the ways in which these years and the faculty who accompanied you through them helped you develop your critical thinking skills, your faith and philosophy of life, your sustaining relationships, and your sense of calling.

Well, Class of 2021, you will have a distinct advantage over all other 50th reunion classes — you have shown your resilience during the worst crisis in generations. May our Augustana experience, punctuated by the COVID-19 crisis, help you push through interruptions and gain strength to face life’s twist and turns.

The Awesome Augie A

In a few minutes, after you walk across the stage, each graduate will receive, as a gift from our board of trustees and our Alumni Association, an Awesome Augie A. We'd ask you to consider placing this special edition Augie A in a prominent place where you live or work — and be ready to tell your Awesome Augie story to anyone who asks.

I hope you will still have your Augie A in 50 years, when you return for your 50th reunion. COVID will be a distant memory by then. Most likely, with 50 glorious years of life, you will not regard COVID as a defining event in your life. But Augustana will remain with you — in how it shaped your critical thinking skills, your faith and life philosophy, gave you life-long friendships and equipped your commitment to leave a better world, not to mention your life-long passion for learning and growing. You will always be a part of Augustana and you will always carry Augie Awesome with you.

Let the Augustana A be a reminder to hold yourself to the highest standards of critical thinking, realizing that skill is more about being creative than being critical.

Most of all, however, let the Augie A serve as a reminder that our purpose in this world is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Let us all remember, always, to temper justice with mercy. To walk humbly, recognizing that our achievements are not ours alone... and that many have helped us along the way.

Students, it has been an honor for all of us to be a part of your lives. We are very, very proud of you! Carry the Augie A proudly. May God bless and keep the Augustana College Class of 2021!